22 Chapters
Medium 9781626569737

11 Designer Genes, the Bacteria in Our Guts, and Precision Medicine

Wadhwa, Vivek; Salkever, Alex Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

In the near future, we will routinely have our genetic material analyzed; late in the next decade, we will be able to download and “print” at home medicines, tissues, and bacteria custom designed to suit our DNA and keep us healthy. In short, we will all be biohackers and amateur geneticists, able to understand how our genes work and how to fix them. That’s because these technologies are moving along the exponential technology curve.

Scientists published the first draft analysis of the human genome in 2001. The effort to sequence a human genome was a long and costly one. Started by the government-funded Human Genome Project and later augmented by Celera Genomics and its noted scientist CEO, Craig Venter, the sequencing spanned more than a decade and cost nearly $3 billion. Today, numerous companies are able to completely sequence your DNA for around $1,000, in less than three days. There are even venture-backed companies, such as 23andMe, that sequence parts of human DNA for consumers, without any doctor participation or prescription, for as little as $199.

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Medium 9781523095865

9 A Personal Epilogue

Wadhwa, Vivek; Salkever, Alex Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Almost immediately after we pitched this book to our publishers, criticism broke out about the business practices, ethics, and values of the big technology companies. In August 2017, sociologist Jean Twenge published her book iGen, which examines how teenagers are growing up with technology dominating their lives while being completely unprepared for adulthood.1 Her September 2017 article in The Atlantic, discussed in chapter 6, sparked a firestorm of commentary and criticism. Former New Republic editor Franklin Foer published World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech in September 2017, a polemic that criticizes Google, Facebook, and other tech giants for what he regards as soulless monopolism that seeks to understand every facet of our identities and influence every decision of our lives for profit.2 In a blog post titled “Hard questions: Is spending time on social media bad for us?” Facebook’s director of research, David Ginsberg, finally acknowledged that perhaps the social network was not so good for its users.3 (The eye-popping irony of the post was that the prescription to solve the problem was even more in-depth Facebook participation!)

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14 The Future of Your Body Is Electric

Wadhwa, Vivek; Salkever, Alex Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

In the television series Star Trek, the blind Lieutenant Commander Geordi La Forge wore futuristic goggles called a VISOR (for Visual Instrument and Sensory Organ Replacement). With the VISOR, La Forge enjoyed vision better than humans do with normal eyes.

Today, in the real world, a company called Second Sight is selling an FDA-approved artificial retinal prosthetic, the Argus II. The Argus II provides very limited but functional vision to people who have lost their sight due to retinitis pigmentosa, a retinal ailment that presently afflicts about 1.5 million people world wide. The Argus II captures images in real time with a video camera and processor mounted on eyeglasses. A wireless chip in the eyeglass rim beams the images to an ocular implant that uses sixty electrodes to stimulate remaining healthy retinal cells, and those cells then send visual information to the optic nerve. The Argus II lets people detect light and motion but not much more; users cannot recognize faces or detect colors, for example. And its cost is prohibitive, at U.S. $100,000.

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2 Welcome to Moore’s World

Wadhwa, Vivek; Salkever, Alex Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Parked on the tarmac of Heathrow Airport, in London, is a sleek airliner that aviation buffs love. The Concorde was the first passenger airliner capable of flying at supersonic speed. Investment bankers and powerful businessmen raved about the nearly magical experience of going from New York to London in less than three hours. The Concorde was and, ironically, remains the future of aviation.

Unfortunately, all the Concordes are grounded. Airlines found the service too expensive to run and unprofitable to maintain. The sonic boom angered communities. The plane was exotic and beautiful but finicky. Perhaps most important of all, it was too expensive for the majority, and there was no obvious way to make its benefits available more broadly. This is part of the genius of Elon Musk as he develops Tesla: that his luxury company is rapidly moving downstream to become a mass-market player. Clearly, though, in the case of the Concorde, the conditions necessary for a futuristic disruption were not in place. They still are not, although some people are trying, including Musk himself, with his Hyperloop transportation project.

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10 The Drones Are Coming

Wadhwa, Vivek; Salkever, Alex Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

You have probably had to pop out to the grocery store to pick up something you needed for a dinner party. Or maybe you’ve dashed to the pharmacy to get a prescription refill before you took a long trip. By the early 2020s, small drones will do that, and a whole lot more, for you.

Companies such as Amazon and Google have long been planning drone-delivery services, but the first authorized commercial delivery in the United States happened in July 2016, when a 7-Eleven delivered Slurpees, a chicken sandwich, donuts, hot coffee, and candy to a customer in Reno, Nevada.1 In the United Kingdom, an enterprising Domino’s franchisee had made headlines by using a drone copter for deliveries in June 2013. Hundreds of companies delivering by drone are starting up all over the world. Venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins estimates that there were 4.3 million shipments of drones in 2015 and that the market is growing by 167 percent per year.2

Not since the automobile has a transportation technology spurred such enthusiastic entrepreneurial activity. The barrier to entry into the business of building drones is exceptionally low. Commodity kits compete with commercial models, and Arduino circuit boards and open-source software make it easy for motivated coders and hackers to tailor drones to exacting functions in arcane and lucrative fields. Just a decade after the military began using drones in earnest as remote-controlled killing machines, the same technology is available to everyone (but not to hunt down terrorists).

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